A wave of air strikes on a rebel-held stronghold in northwest Syria Monday night caused mass casualties and sparked fresh clashes. The flare up in violence came a day after the opposition’s chief negotiator resigned in frustration over the stalled Geneva peace talks with the government of Bashar Assad.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group counted 10 air strikes on the city of Idlib in the evening, which it said killed at least 14 civilians, including three children. The group said it believed Russian jets were responsible.
The Local Coordination Committees, an activist network, said 10 people were killed when the city’s National Hospital was hit, but had no details about casualties elsewhere in the city.
The opposition Civil Defense, which carries out rescue operations, gave a much higher casualty figure, saying dozens were killed and hundreds wounded in the air strikes in which several hospitals were damaged. The group said it had deployed its entire Idlib corps to take part in rescue operations.
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The Observatory said hospitals were not targeted, but suffered damage when bombs struck nearby.
Idlib is under the control of the newly resurrected Army of Conquest coalition, which is dominated by ultraconservative insurgent groups and rebel factions. Al-Qaida’s Syrian affiliate, the Nusra Front, leads the coalition. The Nusra Front is considered a terrorist group by the U.S. and U.N. and has been excluded from previous cease-fire agreements between government forces and rebels.
The Army of Conquest announced it had suspended its non-emergency civilian administration in Idlib after the air strikes, according to the Local Coordination Committees.
The group responded to the air strikes by shelling the nearby besieged towns of Foua and Kefraya, according to the Observatory. The two towns are seen as loyal to the government.
A day earlier, the opposition’s chief negotiator in the Geneva peace talks with the government announced he had resigned from his post, saying the international community was not “serious” about reaching a solution to the country’s five-year civil war.
Mohammed Alloush, in a statement released late Sunday, said that Syrian government forces continue attacking the opposition and besieging rebel-held areas, despite the three rounds of negotiations in Geneva.
The “proximity” talks that began in January have failed to make any progress amid contrary demands by the opposition team and the government delegation.
The Syrian opposition has insisted that political transition should come first while the government says fighting terrorism should be the priority. The last round was held in April and no date has been set for the next talks.
As evidence of the talks’ failure, Alloush said the U.N. has not been able to set up a transitional governing body for Syria or find a political solution to the crisis.
The opposition has been insisting that the President Bashar Assad and top official in his government have no role in Syria’s future – or even during the transitional period.
Alloush said he handed in his resignation to the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee and described his move as a “protest against the international community,” which he hoped would come to realize “the importance of the Syrian blood that is being shed by the (Damascus) regime and its allies.”
Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told The Associated Press in Geneva that the resignation is an “internal matter for the HNC.”
“We look forward to continuing our work with all sides to ensure that the process moves forward,” she said.
Meanwhile, opposition activists reported intense government airstrikes in the northern province of Aleppo on Monday.
The province has witnesses some of the worst violence over the past months and has also seen clashes lately between rebels and members of the extremist Islamic State group, which captured several villages last week before losing two of them again on Sunday.
Also Monday, Syrian state media said the rebels shelled government-held parts of the provincial capital, Aleppo, inflicting casualties.
More than 160,000 civilians have been trapped by the fighting between IS and Syrian rebels and the aid group Doctors Without Borders last week evacuated one of the few remaining hospitals from the Aleppo area.
Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee said that over the weekend, more than 8,000 people managed to escape villages and displacement camps to the east and south of the rebel-held town of Azaz.
IRC said that before the road, became too dangerous, some 6,000 people managed to flee the rebel stronghold of Marea to seek safety in Azaz. It added that more than 1,000 people managed to reach the Kurdish area of Afrin and more than 1,200 people have fled to a makeshift refugee camp on Yazibag mountain.